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Mycenaean Gold – Studies on origin, distribution, and authenticity

In this project, an innovative method for sampling and analysing Mycenaean gold developed at ETH Zurich and CEZA will be developed.

  • Runtime: 01.10.2020 - 30.09.2022
  • Partner: Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut Ministerium für Kultur und Sport - Griechischer Antikendienst (Archäologisches Nationalmuseum Athen, Ephorie der Altertümer der Korinthia, Ephorie der Altertümer von Chania)

Not only since Heinrich Schliemann’s spectacular discoveries of exceptional gold objects like the (so-called) “Mask of Agamemnon” at the end of the 19th century has the Mycenaean culture been associated in a special way with wealth. Homer’s characterisation of “gold-rich Mycenae” (πολύχρυσος Μυκήνη; Iliad 11, 46) also bears witness to this. To this day, the Mycenaean gold finds continue to captivate scholars and the public alike.

Participants: Reinhard Jung, Christoph Schwall, Jasmin Huber, Kostas Nikolentzos, Eleni Konstantinidi-Syvridi, Konstantina Kaza, Eleni Papadopoulou, Maria Andreadaki-Vlasaki, Eftychia Protopapadaki


In order to answer questions about the composition, origin and distribution of the Mycenaean gold finds, the Gerda Henkel Foundation has approved a two-year research project. In this project, an innovative method for sampling and analysing Mycenaean gold developed at ETH Zurich and CEZA will be developed: With the portable laser ablation system, samples can be taken on site in museums and brought to the laboratories in Mannheim for further analysis using mass spectrometry with inductively coupled plasma (pLA-ICP-MS). This eliminates the need to transport the objects to be examined to a laboratory, which is often not possible for various reasons. The sampled site is not visible to the eye.

Other mobile methods, such as X-ray fluorescence analysis (XRF), work completely non-destructively, but are much less sensitive and only detect the surface of the objects down to a depth of a few µm. Since soil storage usually leads to a depletion of the near-surface material in copper and silver, such analyses are not representative for the entire object. Therefore, they are usually not sufficient to answer questions regarding the origin and authenticity of objects. Laser ablation can examine significantly deeper layers of the material (approx. 100-200 µm), whereby chemical changes of the surface influence the analysis result to a lesser extent than is the case with X-ray fluorescence analysis.

For the sampling and analysis of selected objects, the new technique will be applied in various European museums, including the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, as part of this project.